In Memoriam: Charles Francis Adams
Charles Francis Adams
Media Relations Office
February 5, 1999
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death January 5, 1999 of former Chairman of the Board and Honorary Member and Honorary Trustee Charles Francis Adams at his home in Dover, MA. He was 88.
Charles Adams had a long relationship with the Institution, dating back nearly 70 years. His formal relationship began in 1954, when he became a Member of the Corporation and a Trustee. He served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1973 to 1985, and served on many Trustee and Corporation committees through the years. A profile of Adams entitled "Honorary Oceanographer" by Paul Ryan appeared in the Fall 1985 issue of Oceanus magazine (Volume 28 Number 3). "His contribution to marine science has been in quietly lending his influence, advice, and business expertise to WHOI during its expansion years - a period that has seen the Institution become one of the most respected centers of marine research in the world," Ryan wrote of Adams.
"Charles Adams was a quiet man who was deeply committed to this Institution," WHOI Director Robert B. Gagosian said. "He believed in excellence, and supported only those few organizations that he felt demonstrated that quality and that made a difference to society as a whole. He was a man of principle, and his principles paralleled those of this Institution. We are very fortunate to have had the benefit of his tremendous wisdom, experience, generosity and commitment for so many years."
Adams was honored in 1993 for his many contributions to WHOI with the Cecil H. Green Award for outstanding contributions to oceanography. The award, established by the WHOI Associates in 1991, is named for philanthropist and Texas Instruments founder Cecil H. Green, who has also had a long association with the Institution. In presenting the Green award, Charles A. Dana III, then President of the Associates, noted that Adam's relationship with the Oceanographic dated back to his father's friendship in the late 1920s with Henry Bigelow, who became WHOI's first Director. "As Secretary of the Navy, the elder Adams assisted the Institution through its formative years. In fact, Bigelow's very decision to begin the Institution was hatched out of conversations with Charles' father. Young Charlie Adams was witness to many of these early discussions and led to his own involvement beginning forty years ago. His commitment and encouragement to the Institution have continued unabated... Charles Adams has supported Woods Hole from Dr. Bigelow's time, through that of Columbus O'Donnell Iselin and Admiral Smith. He was part of the search committee that brought Paul Fye, the former Director responsible for setting the Institution on the path toward what it is today..." When Paul Fye retired as Director in 1977, Adams participated in the search that led to John Steele's appointment. In May of 1995 Charles Adams challenged his colleagues at the Institution's Trustee and Corporation Meetings that he would fund the first Senior Scientist Chair in the Institution's $50 million Capital Campaign if they would fund two additional chairs. Adams told his fellow Members of the Corporation that he supported the Institution because he believed strongly in its work and mission and in its commitment to excellence. In 1996, that challenge was met and the Institution established the Adams Chair in his honor, currently held by Peter Wiebe of the Biology Department.
A member of one of the most famous families in America, Charles Francis Adams was the great-great-great-grandson of President John Adams, and the great-great-grandson of President John Quincy Adams. His father, a well-known yachtsman and Treasurer of Harvard University for 35 years, was appointed Secretary of the Navy in 1928 by President Herbert Hoover. "I remember as a teenager listening to conversations between my father and his old friend and neighbor, Dr. Henry B. Bigelow, in which Dr. Bigelow expressed his conviction that an institution should be created for study of the oceans. I remember them chatting, Dr. Bigelow saying in effect 'you know Charles, we really ought to found a proper institution to do research in oceanography. Somehow or another we ought to put that together. Well, in the spring of 1929, my father went to Washington. Dr. Bigelow got in touch with him one day soon after and said 'I've gotten a Rockefeller grant-we've started on the oceanographic institution.'" In 1933, the elder Charles Adams became a WHOI Trustee, serving until his death in 1954.
Charles Francis Adams was born May 2, 1910 in Boston, attended St. Mark's School and graduated from Harvard College in 1932 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. He attended Harvard Business School, then joined the Boston investment banking firm of Jackson and Curtis in 1934, becoming a partner in 1937. The firm merged to form Paine, Webber, Jackson and Curtis, and he served as a partner there until 1947. Between 1940 and 1947 Adams served on active duty with the U.S. Naval Reserve, commanding destroyer escorts in the Atlantic and Pacific theatres. In 1945 he returned to Washington, DC, with the rank of Commander and was attached to the staff of Admiral Jonas Ingram, commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet. When the war ended, he was briefly assigned to the Navy's Bureau of Personnel. In 1947, he left the investment banking business to join Raytheon Manufacturing Company, of which he had been a Director from 1938 to 1942. Under his leadership, Raytheon became the state's largest industrial employer and one of the largest 100 corporations in the nation. He served as President of Raytheon from 1948 to 1974 and was named Chairman of the Board in 1960, stepping down as Chairman in 1975 at the mandatory retirement age of 65. During his 27 years of direct participation in the company's management, Raytheon's sales grew fortyfold and its workforce grew to more than 55,000. He said of this tenure at Raytheon: "It has been interesting to see how a liberal arts education at Harvard can fit in usefully in an organization so largely composed at its upper levels of scientists and engineers."
He was active in many community organizations, serving as a director of the Massachusetts Bay United Way Fund and as chairman of the 1969 fund drive; as Chairman of the Board of Visitors of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University; and served as a Trustee of Children's Hospital, the Industrial School for Crippled Children, New England Aquarium, the Massachusetts Humane Society, the Naval War College Foundation, the National Security Industrial Association, and the New England Colleges Fund. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vice President of the Massachusetts Historical Society, a Member of the Corporation of Northeastern University, and served as a director of the Massachusetts Higher Education Assistance Corp., the First National Bank of Boston, the Gillette Company, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, Sheraton Corporation, Bath Iron Works, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Boston Chamber of Commerce, and Pan American World Airways. He was a major force in the establishment of the U.S.S. Constitution as a museum and served as president of the Freedom Trail. In 1981 Adams was named the first recipient of the Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz Award from the Navy League of the United States for exemplary contributions to the nation's maritime strength and its national security.
"The Institution's future role, as I see it, is to maintain its quality, to enhance it if that indeed be possible, but never to settle for anything less than the best," Adams said in a 1985 interview shortly after he retired as Chairman of the Board. "To keep our share of the monies available for research in oceanography, we must be able to produce better evidence of work well done per dollars spent than any competitor. Be this by more creative and original papers, by more convincing solutions to complex scientific problems, or by more productive work per day at sea, we must keep our lead in such clear and evident fashion that there can be no question as to who is number one. Better to me to accept the circumstances that might some day arise in which it might be the course of wisdom to drop a certain activity, that to carry it on in a second-class manner."
Charles Adams is survived by his wife, Beatrice (Dabney) Adams; two daughters and one son by his first wife, the former Margaret Stockton, who died in 1972, Abigail A. Manny of Brunswick, ME, Alison A. Hagan of Fairplay, CO, and Timothy Adams of Louisville, CO; a stepson, Giannotto Penati of Washington, DC; nine grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 2:00 p.m. Friday (January 8, 1999) in Memorial Church at Harvard University.
Originally published: February 5, 1999